A conversation in Presque Isle twelve months ago led to Nick Fitzpatrick and his dad Mike literally piecing together a soybean extruder operation in their Bangor Street shop and wondering at times what they had gotten themselves into. One of the reasons they decided to dive head first in this new venture was because there was a market already established by the seller of “the line” as Nick refers to it. He estimates that they spent about six weeks of straight work, including many evenings and Saturdays and Sundays, to get the line up and running and working the bugs out. It was a much bigger job than they had imagined but they were also committed to its success as they had orders for the soybean meal in the spring from farmers using it as fertilizer for their crops.
As part of the learning curve and being a farmer himself, Nick admitted to being quite concerned about the consistency of the meal in farmer’s planting equipment but reports back to him were positive and supportive of their product.
In their shop, the line is a series of four stations that begins with a hopper of soybeans filtering out through a barrel cleaner that effectively separates any small stones from the beans. From there the beans travel into an extruder which is a big chamber with an auger and steam lock system raising temperatures to 315 degrees F. The beans come out as mash and travel through a vented auger that slowly squeezes the hot mash and forces oil out where it settles into chambers. The oil is then pumped from these chambers into 260 gallon totes. The last step for the soybean meal is the drier which cools it down and fluffs it up to the desired texture. This last step is what gets used as animal feed or fertilizer. For now, the oil is primarily used as supplements to animal feed as it contains Omega-3 nutritional benefits. Nick and Mike have also had interest in producing food grade oil and that is something they will look at as their operation moves forward.
One unique aspect of their extruder is that they get 90 percent of the oil out of the non-GMO soybeans versus 99 percent. The latter can be achieved only through a chemical process and they prefer to have a more natural extrusion and a product with a higher nutritional value.
Nick hopes to expand and open up more avenues for sales, such as producing food grade soybean oil and expanding the local market for animal feed. They also grew out some trial plots this year of flax and mustard and hope to expand that way as well. For now, Nick is just getting comfortable with the whole process and is happy that all is up and running.
When I asked if he had a particularly memorable story to share he just rolled his eyes and laughed, suggesting the stories were too numerable to relate. He merely said, “We were under the gun, but we got it done.”
For more information on soybean meal and oil, phone Nick at 538-6148.
Editor’s note: Angie Wotton loves her work as district manager for the Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District. She also raises pastured pork and vegetables with her husband on their small West Berry Farm in Hammond. She can be reached 532-9407 or via e-mail at angela.wotton@ me.nacdnet.net.